A federal lawsuit alleges guards at a privately-run prison in Tennessee strip-searched a visitor simply because she told them she was menstruating.
According to a complaint filed Thursday in U.S. District Court, an unidentified woman claims Nashville-based Corrections Corp. of America violated her constitutional rights when it required her to disrobe to prove she was having her period.
The plaintiff, who has filed asked the court to use the pseudonym Jane Doe due to the “sensitive and embarrassing nature of her allegations,” says the incident occurred in April when she went to visit an inmate at the South Central Correctional Facility, a prison owned and operated by CCA prison in Clifton, Tenn.
At a checkpoint, guards spotted a sanitary napkin in her pocket. After the woman confirmed she was having her period, she was told she could not bring her own pad into the prison and would have to use one issued by CCA.
She agreed to take it, but then guards said they had to be sure she was having her period before she could leave the checkpoint. So the woman was led into a bathroom with two female guards and told to disrobe. One guard then visually confirmed the woman was menstruating.
The woman’s attorney, Tricia Herzfeld, says her client wasn’t given the option of refusing the search
“She offered to leave. She also offered to cut the visit short. She offered to change her pad. She offered all sorts of things and nobody at the facility responded to her offers.”
Herzfeld added that the woman could have been banned for life from all CCA facilities if she had tried to leave in the middle of a search.
Jonathan Burns, a spokesman for CCA, said the company couldn’t address specifics because of the anonymous nature of the complaint, but it is taking the allegations “extremely seriously.” He added that the company policies on searches and contraband are set by the governments they contract with — in this case the Tennessee Department of Correction.
"Our top priority is maintaining facilities that are safe and secure for the inmates entrusted to our care, as well as our CCA staff and the communities they call home," he said.
The woman is seeking emotional and punitive damages. She’s also requested an injunction putting an end to such searches at the prison.